Saturday, February 28, 2015

Go Ahead, Touch the Dial

Sometimes I miss working in the radio industry, and at times I also miss being a receptionist/customer care associate. The following exchange occurred while I was volunteering at a public radio station earlier today. A few minutes after an associate fielded a similar question, I was reminded of the flipside to working the phones:

Me: (normal, neutral tone of voice) Good afternoon, [call letters redacted], how may I help you?
Caller: Hi, I want to listen to the station on my iPhone but I don't want to download the TuneIn app.
Me: Okay. Did you call a few minutes ago?
Caller: No, I want to listen to [call letters redacted] on my iPhone, but I don't want to download TuneIn.
Me: Sure. Did you visit--
Caller: (interrupts, mumbles something unintelligible)
Me: I'm sorry, I didn't hear what you said.
Caller: Clearly, you don't speak English. Forget it.
Me: I didn't hear what you said--

On a less exasperating note, I'm going to close February with some assorted musings:

+ Told you so. Growing disdain for Rahm Emanuel's aloof approach to running the city of Chicago has forced the first run-off mayoral election in the city's history. (Since the rules were changed in 1995, if no candidate gets 50% of the vote on election day, a vote is held six weeks later.) This throws a relative unknown named Jesus "Chuy" Garcia into the regional spotlight, a grass-roots guy faced with the task of defeating a known name with national political support. Some political wonks are calling this a defeat for Emanuel, but early polls suggest it's more neck-to-neck then one might initally assume. Ultimately, it comes down to the size of Rahm's war chest versus the coalition of alienated voters (a pretty disparate group) that are willing to back Garcia. In short, for the first time since the 1983 three-way showdown between incumbent Jane Bryne, Richard M. Daley, and eventual winner Harold Washington, Chicago has a real mayoral race.

+ In the wake of the Derrick Rose and Patrick Kane injuries, Spring Training couldn't have come soon enough. (Expect my annual baseball haiku in late March.)

Family Update: My mother's condition is improving slowly but steadily; rehab from bypass surgery usually takes a few weeks. My sincere thanks to anyone reading this for the kind thoughts.


Friday, February 20, 2015

Kept in Stitches

I don't believe I've ever gone 3 1/2 weeks without blogging. I have a perfectly reasonable explanation:

On February 4th, my mother had quadruple bypass surgery. She went to a nearby hospital on the 3rd for a routine angiogram and didn't leave until the 16th. The past two weeks and change have been fairly hectic; on top of work and various improv and comedy activities, my sister and I have also had to divide my mom's tasks around the house. Given that both my mother and father have a history of health issues, and my father is still finding his footing nearly a year since the doctors told him he was cancer-free, it's been a tall order. My sister and I are somewhat stressed out, yet desensitized by this latest of many obstacles.

At the moment, my mother is currently in physical rehab; oddly enough, it's at the same nursing home where my grandmother resides. Please keep sending your positive thoughts and good vibes during this trying time.


Thursday, February 19, 2015

That Wonderful Year in Music... 2005

As promised in November, here is my 2005 best-of list. Though some of the below albums are new to my ears, a large percentage of this list was the soundtrack of my sophomore and junior years of college. This list has a tad more upheaval compared my previous "year in music" do-overs, but the first edition was so riddled with albums that simply don't hold up --and for some reason, two 2004 releases-- that I couldn't let it be. (I even included Kelly Clarkson's Breakaway. WTF?)

Looking back, 2005 wasn't too shabby, though admittedly it's quite scattered. I don't recall any album being the consensus #1 among critics (2006 and 2011 had the same problem), which made for a very eclectic top ten. It was also the year indie-rock nudged itself into the mainstream, or at the very least earned the respect of people who tired of the latest Nickelback or Buckcherry single on mainstream radio. This was a good year for hidden gems; a lot of the albums mentioned below were ignored or quickly dismissed upon initial release but found new appreciation in the decade to come.

(NOTE: parentheses note previous ranking)

1. Come On Feel The Illinoise, Sufjan Stevens (1). On the surface, this is a twee-sounding, ballad-heavy concept album about my home state. Instead, the landmarks and footnotes that Stevens name-checks serve as a grounding point for the melancholy short stories that unspool herein. The Land of Lincoln is more than just a template, but everything about America personified in one state: the wanderlust of a 20-something deadbeat, a young man watching an older relative die, John Wayne Gacy shortly before his capture. The lyrics are earnest even when Stevens isn't on the level; even an opportunist lets his guard down once in a while.
2. Late Registration, Kanye West (12). Hip-hop circa 2005 was mostly about G-Unit and the proteges of Dr. Dre, and Yeezy fit into neither category. He was a Chicago native taken under the tutelage of Jay-Z, a hot prospect and critic's darling thrown into the national spotlight when he called out President Bush during a hurricane relief telethon. That outburst seems quaint in the wake of more recent antics, but West's desire to polarize has always been there. He would be another egomaniac running off the mouth if his music wasn't so. Damn. Good. The lyrics are innately clever, and producer Jon Brion gives the beats a melodic feel.
3. Twin Cinema, The New Pornographers (2). The bright, hook-laded formula and democratic approach to songwriting that worked on the Pornographers' first two albums continues through their third effort. This time around, the aesthetic remains sunshine and lollipops even when the tempo slows down. The band at times sounds leaderless, but that's hardly a flaw: the combined talents to Daniel Bejar, Neko Case, and AC Newman are merely throwing ingredients into a delectable stew of sound.
4. LCD Soundsystem, LCD Soundsystem
5. Feels, Animal Collective
6. Get Behind Me Satan, The White Stripes (3)
7. The Woods Sleater-Kinney (9)
8. Seperation Sunday, The Hold Steady
9. Gimme Fiction, Spoon
10. Extraordinary Machine, Fiona Apple. To quote Pitchfork: "This isn't about hipster cred: Fiona Apple's not actually cool; she's embarrassingly earnest." The notoriously reticent and prickly Apple went six years between her second album and third, challenging herself as if time was no object. Where Jon Brion (see #2) failed to match the fussy, artsy aspects of Apple's work --hence the delay-- new producer Mike Elizondo opens her work up. She is not a commercial artist but an auteur, and she doesn't care what you think about that.

11. Guero, Beck (11)
12. I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning, Bright Eyes (13)
13. Picaresque, The Decemberists
14. Celebration Castle, Ponys
15. Wolfmother, Wolfmother (7). A band that ultimately collapsed on the weight of its own novelty, this Australian trio worshiped Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin but also owed a debt to The White Stripes and Queens of the Stone Age. The end result is proto-metal mashed with stoner metal, personified by the hit single "Woman." Even when their influences start to muddle together, Wolfmother's blunt sonic force makes you wish they really were around in 1972... or more than two albums.
16. Z, My Morning Jacket
17. Alligator, The National
18. The Alternative to Love, Brendan Benson (15)
19. Silent Alarm, Bloc Party (14)
20. Employment, Kaiser Chiefs (5). If She Wants Revenge wanted to be our generation's Joy Division, then this Scottish quintet aspired to be The Jam 2.0. The opening 1-2 punch of "Everyday I Love You Less and Less" and "Predict a Riot" are smashing singles, and the rest of this debut album is just as raucous and delightfully snotty as anything released in the golden age of punk and new wave.

Best Jazz Album: Suspicious Activity?, The Bad Plus. (8) Are they a rock band that plays jazz, or vice versa? When you compose and perform one-of-a-kind songs like the intense "Anthem for the Earnest," that tiny red line barely even matters.

"Landed," Ben Folds
"Monster Hospital," Metric
"Feel Good Inc," Gorillaz
"Holding Me Up," The Dandy Warhols
"The Sun Comes Through," Kelley Stoltz
"Perfect Situation," Weezer
"Sugar, We're Going Down," Fall Out Boy
"Little Sister," Queens of the Stone Age
"Do You Want To?" Franz Ferdinand
"Goodnight Goodnight," Hot Hot Heat
"Eleanor," Low Millions
"Hide and Seek," Imogen Heap

1. "Trapped in the Closet," R. Kelly. The event video of the decade, and symbolic of the Chicago-based R&B singer's indulgence and complete lack of self-awareness.
2. "Triumph of a Heart," Bjork. The original YouTube cat video?
3. "Evil," Interpol. A puppet (or is he a ghost?) lingers over the aftermath of a car accident in this goofy yet affecting video.
4. "The Denial Twist," The White Stripes. Parodying an awkward moment on Conan O'Brien's show in 2003, the talk show great is thrown into an almost nightmarish journey in this Michel Gondry-directed effort.
5. "At The Bottom of Everything," Bright Eyes. If I had to choose between the cute-but-mawkish clip for "First Day Of My Life" or this, I'd go with the latter, a wacky clip that evokes the emergency landing from "Garden State" and expands upon the idea.

Honorable Mentions: "Off the Record," My Morning Jacket; "Vaka," Sigur Ros; "Believe," The Chemical Brothers.

Your thoughts?